John Skvarla, new Sec'y of DENR: snake oil salesman?

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John Skvarla, the newly anointed Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, has publicly stated that under his watch, regulations—and the relaxation thereof—will be grounded in science and fact.

In an illuminating interview with WRAL’s Laura Leslie, Skvarla failed the scientific sniff test. (The portions referenced below begin around 11:21.)

First, Skvarla insinuated that oil and gas are infinite, renewable resources. When Leslie noted that these fossil fuels are not renewable, he replied, “Some people would disagree with you. The Russians, for example, have always drilled oil as if it’s a renewable resource … There is a lot of different scientific opinion on that.”

Not really.

The abiotic theory of oil, as it’s known, holds that oil is naturally produced deep underground rather than is converted from decomposed and organic material, such as plants and prehistoric forests. Abioticians (We made up that word—why not, if you can make up science?) use this theory to support the idea that we need not wean ourselves off fossil fuels because they’ll never run out.

Creationists have latched on to the theory as way to prove the Earth is only 6,000 years old.

Now Skvarla is right in that the Russians proposed this theory in the 19th century, but it has gained no legitimate, scientific consensus. That didn’t stop astronomer Thomas Gold, who revived the theory in a 1998 book.

In 2005, abiotics was explored again in Black Gold Stranglehold: The Myth of Scarcity and the Politics of Oil by Jerome Corsi and Craig R. Smith, neither of whom is a scientist.
(Corsi has a doctorate in political science from Harvard. Smith is chairman of Swiss America Trading Corporation, an investment firm specializing in U.S. gold and silver coins.)

INDY Week called Dr. John Rogers, UNC professor emeritus of geology, about abiotics. He says the idea that oil and gas are renewable resources is incorrect. “Abiotic oil is another idea that conservatives have latched onto as a way of denying that there is any limitation that the Earth places on the way we live,” Rogers says.

“The idea that there is carbon deep in the Earth is true,” he adds. “The problem is that there is very little in the deep crust in comparison to the oil that has been found and produced by decomposition.”

Rogers, who is writing a book, Rational Environmentalism, taught at UNC from 1975—1997. He says the anti-science movement has strengthened in recent years because of greed.

“If you accept the idea that the Earth puts limits on itself, you have to understand science. We can’t simply manipulate our way to wealth,” he says. “And the modern feeling is that all we have to do is adjust taxes and laws and we will be become rich.”

While we’re comparing credentials—Rogers being a geologist and Corsi being a political scientist—it should be noted that Corsi also pens columns for the conservative website WorldNetDaily, which often trafficks in conspiracy theories and misinformation. WND published the Black Gold book.

Corsi’s previous work includes two books attacking Democrats, including The Obama Nation. A bestseller, it was widely criticized for serious inaccuracies, including that Obama could claim to be a Kenyan citizen and that he was once a practicing Muslim.

Factcheck.org, which is based at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, judged it to be “what a hack journalist might call a ‘paste-up job,’ gluing together snippets from ehre and there without much regard for their truthfulness or accuracy. … A comprehensive review of all the false claims in Corsi's book would itself be a book,” Joe Miller wrote on the Factcheck.org website.

These are the minds from which abiotics sprang—and our new Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources is parading around a scientifically bereft theory.

But wait, there’s more.

Although he chose his words carefully, Skvarla spoke in the same terms as the far-right climate-change doubters, similar to coastal conservatives who advocated for what became known as the sea-level rise proposal last year.

"I think climate change is a science and I think science is constantly in need of scrutiny," Skvarla said. "There is a great divergence of opinion on the science of climate. More dialogue is needed.
“We must engage the very best minds with diverse opinions to make conclusions on policy that will be driven by fact but simply to say that climate change is settled … science is fluid.”

Fact: There is no scientifically valid debate about climate change. Period.

But the facts didn’t deter Skvarla, who as a point of interest, has spoken at several Tea Party events and is an expert on Wake Up America, which espouses the tea party platform. When Leslie pointed out that 97 percent of qualified scientists agree on the science of climate change, Skvarla said, “I think that’s [the proportion of scientists] misleading. I have studied this every day for 10 years and there is a great divergence of opinion on this. I’m not ready to say which is right or wrong.”

Really? Every day for 10 years? And he’s still not ready to come down on the side of science?

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